In advance of a Holyrood debate to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2017, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, Ruth Maguire, has written to Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, and Turkish Justice Minister, Abdülhamit Gül, urging the immediate and unconditional release of the Kurdish artist and journalist, Zehra Doğan.
Ruth also written a personal message of support to Zehra herself, that will be posted to her in prison.
Zehra, 28, is a renowned journalist and the founding editor of the all-female news agency Jin News Agency (JİNHA), which was closed by the Turkish authorities in 2016. For her work for the agency between 2010 and 2016, she received numerous awards, including the prestigious Metin Göktepe award for her reporting of Yazidi women escaping from ISIS captivity.
She is in prison as a result of her reporting and her painting being deemed ‘terrorist propaganda’ by the Turkish state.
The painting at issue is her recreation of a photograph taken by the Turkish military of the Kurdish town of Nusaybin, following its destruction by Turkish forces. The picture shows destroyed buildings draped with Turkish flags and surrounded by tanks. In her painting, Zehra turned the army tanks into huge grotesque creatures consuming innocent civilians. However – although the Turkish flags were present in the original photograph, Zehra was found guilty of painting the Turkish flags on the destroyed buildings – and the painting was condemned as anti-Turkish terrorist propaganda.
As Zehra herself stated after the ruling: “they gave me a prison penalty for taking the photo of destroyed houses and putting Turkish flags on them. But it wasn’t me who did it, it was them. I just painted it.”
The offending news report featured the following quote from a child who was affected by the clashes in the town: “We are hearing gunfire right now. When the shots intensify we run to our homes. When the tanks go away we take to the street to protest. I think we are right. I know our voices will be heard one day.”
Zehra’s reporting of these five sentences was also deemed terrorist propaganda.
The Day of the Imprisoned Writer is organised by PEN International as a day of solidarity and action for those writers who are denied the right to freedom of expression and who are struggling and fighting for it.
Each year, PEN highlights the cases of five persecuted writers that are emblematic of the persecution and threats faced by writers and journalists across the world. Zehra Dogan is one of this year’s cases.
Later this week, on Thursday 23rd November, Ruth will raise her case in the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament during a debate to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer.
Text of Letter to Zehra Doğan (Note: the prison only accepts letters in Turkish)
Zehra, yalnız değilsin. Emeğinle gurur duyuyor, cesaretini kutluyoruz. Sesinin dünyada duyulduğunu bilmeni istiyoruz. Özgürlüğün için mücadele vermeyi sürdüreceğiz.
(Reads: Zehra you are not alone. We are proud of your work and celebrate your courage. Your voice is heard around the world and we will keep advocating for your freedom.)
Text of Letter to Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım
Dear Binali Yıldırım,
I am deeply concerned by the arrest and imprisonment of the Kurdish painter and journalist Zehra Doğan.
Zehra is an inspirational and skilled painter and journalist, not a criminal, and I add my voice to the global calls for her immediate and unconditional release
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and should not be persecuted. It is particularly alarming that this action is being taken against an award-winning journalist and painter whose voice has proven crucial in sharing the stories of under-represented communities.
I understand that the imprisonment of Zehra Doğan is unconstitutional, violating articles 26 and 28 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, which guarantee freedom of expression and a free press respectively.
In addition, Zehra’s imprisonment seriously compromises Turkey’s reputation on the global stage. It violates globally recognised norms protecting the right to freedom of expression in agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Turkey is a party. As per Article 90 of the Constitution, International agreements duly put into effect have the force of law.
I strongly urge you to immediately and unconditionally release the artist and journalist Zehra Doğan – she is guilty of no crime.
Ruth Maguire MSP